The invisible ties that bind
I have been thinking quite a bit about the role of explicit and tacit communication in relationships. Generally we live in a culture that values making things very explicit. We have strong, close bonds that tend to concentrate in one’s nuclear family. But we also, more than ever, lack explicit ties to the vast majority of people with whom we come into contact.
It can be tempting to reduce the significance of the fragile, invisible ties of love, only recognizing the presence of such ties in formally celebrated, confirmed and established relationships.
But so many things that make life interesting, nature amazing, and the world wonderful are invisible. And sometimes the things that make things interesting are also the things that provide awkward transitions. So what can we learn about human relationships from physical chemistry?
We talk about relationships in terms of chemistry. It’s either present or it’s not. We know if we stick to another person like glue because the ions are just right (ionic bonding). The pieces fit; it is the “You complete me” phenomena of new love that sometimes leaves me feeling ill. We also come together in deep and intimate ways to share ourselves to become something we could not become on our own (covalent bonding).
But we come together beyond molecules. And there are still attractive and repulsive forces at work. We have termed them Van der Waals forces. These forces explain how things comprise visible substances. These forces give rise to neat physical realities like surface tension. These forces account for solubility differences. And they are neat. And they are also hard to understand. But they do hold the world together.
We are not much if we manifest ourselves exclusively as individuals or even as nuclear families. But we struggle to value the other connections that hold our lives together and give us shape.